Finally Some Oxygen!!

Finally Some Oxygen!!

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia – April 6, 2019

Departing from La Paz, one must always wake up early.  Fortunately, when it is a domestic flight, it is not crazy early.  Our driver from Mujeres al Volante (Women at the Wheel) was right on time for our 05:00 pick up from home.

When we can, we use Mujeres al Volante to get us around La Paz.  As one can tell from the business name, it is an all-female taxi service.  We like that idea because it gives women a chance they might not otherwise have.  The service operates, in part, via WhatsApp.  After arranging for a pickup, the service sends a text message via WhatsApp with the name, photograph, and cellular phone number of the driver.  Additionally, one also receives a picture of the vehicle, including the license plate.  That allows for confirmation of the ride before getting in the car.

In our experience, each driver is very kind.  Each driver is also very conscientious and safe.  For example, this morning, our driver stopped at every red light.  That may not be all that unusual in La Paz; however, our driver remained stopped until the light turned green.  That is a bit unusual.  Several other drivers stopped or slowed, only to continue through the intersection.  Those few stops did not hamper our progress.  We quickly and safely made it to the airport at El Alto by 05:45.

It was quick and easy to check-in for our 07:30 Boliviana de Aviación (BOA) flight.  After clearing the security checkpoint, we sat at Uyu café.  We both had a coffee.  Leslie also had a toasted ham and cheese croissant.  She said it was unusually delicious, especially for airport food.

Cloudy conditions did not interfere with the air traffic.  We had no problems seeing our BOA airplane arrive at the jet bridge.  About 30-minutes after the aircraft arrived, we boarded.  Then, right on time, we pushed back from the gate at 07:30.

Our Bolivian Airlines jet approaches the boarding gate.

At roughly 4,115 meters (13,500 feet), there is not an abundance of oxygen.  The main runway at El Alto International Airport is 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) long.  It seemed our airplane used about 3,990 meters of the runway before finally lifting off the ground.  Even jet airplanes have trouble at that altitude.  Quite frankly, that is no doubt part of the reason for so many early morning flights.  As the air heats up during the day, the lifting capacity of the air diminishes.

La Paz nestles amongst the mountains and cliffs along the west side of the Andes.  Santa Cruz de la Sierra, our destination, is about 554 kilometers (344 miles) east and south of La Paz.  That meant our flight went directly over the Andes.  Seeing some of the highest peaks in Bolivia from the air is beautiful.  Two offered some breathtaking views that morning, Illimani (6,438 meters/21,122 feet) and Huayna Potosí (6,088 meters/19,974 feet).  Illimani is the second highest peak in Bolivia, Huayna Potosí is the fifth highest.

We landed at Viri Viri International Airport right on time, 08:35.  As soon as we deplaned, we both felt like Olympic athletes!  There was more oxygen than our bodies had encountered in quite some time!  We felt like we could jog to the hotel.  A mere 55-minutes later we arrived at the Marriott Hotel…via a van.

The reason for our oxygen “high” was because we were low.  In a little over one-hour, we transitioned from 4,115 meters to 416 meters (1,365 feet); about a 90-percent decrease in altitude!  We were as giddy as junior high school kids…well maybe not, but we sure felt great!

After brunch at the hotel, we got in a taxi and headed to the Cathedral of Santa Cruz.  Our driver let us out on the west side of the Central Plaza.  The beautifully landscaped plaza covers one city block, containing many sidewalks.  At the center of the square is a statue of Colonel Ignacio Warnes (1770-1816).  He famously liberated the city of Santa Cruz in about 1813.

A statue of Colonel Ignacio Warnes in the center of the Central Plaza.

From the moment we exited our taxi, we heard a band playing.  As we walked through the plaza, we headed toward the cathedral at the southeast corner of the square.  In formation and at the front of the cathedral, was the Banda Intercontinental Poopó (the Poopó Intercontinental Band).  The band hails from the Bolivian city of Oruro.  The group, formed in 1964, it is famously known for playing Bolivian folk music.  Every year the band performs during Carnaval in Oruro.

There were about 50 band members on the steps in front of the cathedral.  Their uniforms are distinct, each member wearing a red jacket with gold and yellow accents.  The jackets have the name of the band emblazoned diagonally across the chest.  Dazzling white slacks offset the red coats.  Each side of the pants also carries the name of the group.  The white shoes are like none I have ever seen.  To top it all off each member wears a brownish hardhat that carries the name of the band.

When we arrived, dozens and dozens of people surrounded the band, enjoying the music.  The first song we heard was the Bolivian national anthem.  After the anthem, they segued to a Bolivian folk song.  We listened and watched for several minutes before entering the cathedral.

The Poopó Band playing in front of the cathedral.
The band smartly lined up on the stairs.
The uniforms are very intricate.
The pants and shoes are pretty snappy too!

The Cathedral of Santa Cruz, completed in 1915, is also known as the Basílica Menor de San Lorenzo Martir (Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence Martyr).  St. Lawrence was a Spanish deacon martyred in Rome in 258.  Inside, the altar that is opposite the entry point immediately draws one’s attention.  The basilica is all brick and concrete except for the beautiful vaulted wooden ceilings.  These vaulted ceilings are over the central aisle as well as the two side aisles.

The main aisle inside the cathedral.

We opted to walk along the right-side aisle toward the front of the basilica.  A typical sight in a Catholic church is prayer candles.  However, I have never seen them done as they were in the basilica.  At strategic points, there are metal tables.  Each table is about two-feet by four-feet with upturned edges.  On the flat surface, worshipers place candles.  The melted wax gathers on the tabletop without harming anything else in the basilica.  In front of a crucifix and depictions of Mary and Joseph were two of these tables.  Off to one side of the display is a hinged door with a small slot.  Many worshipers place money in the slot while admiring the display.

A pan for prayer candles.
Jesus on the cross with Mary and Joseph below.

Further along the aisle is a wooden and glass display case.  Inside are depictions of Mary, Joseph, and a young Jesus.  I am not sure who the depicted person is on the left side of the display.  As with the crucifix display, another, albeit smaller, metal table for prayer candles sat in front of the display case.  A donation box was also available.

This case depicts Mary in the center and Jesus and Joseph on the right.
The prayer candles in front of the display.

The next display was a life-size statue, possibly depicting St. Lawrence.  Just beyond that statue, at the right side of the altar was a depiction of Mary.  While we were there, a woman stood in front of the figure the entire time.

A statue in the cathedral.
A woman standing in front of a depiction of Mary.

When crossing from one side of the basilica to the other, the enormous scale of the altar area is striking.  The height and depth make it an expansive space, yet it does seem inviting.  Because the Easter Season is approaching, purple draping is behind the altar and tabernacle.  That is a pleasing offset to the wood ceilings and the mainly white walls and columns.  It also makes the silver tabernacle visually pop from the space.

The base of the altar is unique.  It appears to be hand-carved wood bas relief.  The scene depicts Jesus among several Latinos.  The Latinos are in relatively modern looking clothing, not clothing from their native past.  Some of the men sport traditional hats.  The lone woman does not appear to have her head covered at all.  The painting of the bas relief helps bring the scene to life.

The purple draping in anticipation of Easter.
The crucifix above the tabernacle.
Detail of the crucifix.
A uniquely carved altar.

On the left side of the altar is a statue of Peter, complete with the keys to the Kingdom.

A statue honoring Peter.

Outside the small chapel is another depiction of Mary and one of Jesus.  Both have space for worshipers to place prayer candles.  The chapel is small and cozy.  The tabernacle is the focus of the chapel as it is in most Catholic churches.

A statue of Jesus.
Some prayer candles in front of a depiction of Mary.
The tabernacle in the chapel.
The prayer candles in front of the statue of Jesus.
Detail of the side of the cathedral.
Detail at the top of the column.

Leaving the chapel area, one encounters another bas relief.  This bas relief depicts the Holy Trinity.  It looks ancient.

A bas relief of the Holy Trinity.
A man and woman stop in front of the side crucifix.

We could hear the Poopó Band during our entire visit to the basilica.  When we emerged, we saw some dancers performing between the band and the group of onlookers.  At one point, a man from the crowd began dancing to the folk song played at that moment.

At the left is a man dancing to the music of the Poopó Band.
Dozens and dozens of people enjoying the band.
Three members of one of the dance groups.
The clock spire of the cathedral.

Departing the basilica area, we opted to walk along the east side of the Central Plaza.  Along the way, I spotted the “Barcelona” money exchange.  Because of our time in Spain, I just had to take a photograph.  We crossed the street and entered a tourist gift shop.  After much looking, we spotted a hand-carved depiction of the Holy Family.  Carved to appear like native Bolivians, both Mary and Joseph are unique.  Even though we have a lot of Nativity scenes already, we could not resist this opportunity.  The man that served us was very kind.  He also agreed to have his photograph made while he was wrapping our purchase.

The cathedral as seen from the Central Plaza.
Looking south toward the cathedral along 24 de Septiembre.
A money exchange store.
The man from whom we purchased the wooden set of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

Next door was another tourist shop.  There we decided we had to have two Bolivian blankets.  Much like the other store, the woman serving us was kind and posed for a photograph.

The woman from whom we purchased our “cholita” blankets.

At this point, it was near noon.  We saw an Irish Pub on the second level of a shopping mall.  It had open windows overlooking the Central Plaza.  We decided that was the place to be.  We walked upstairs and ordered a couple of beers.  Since we had brunch at the hotel, we decided to snack on some French fries.  Just as noted above, our server was kind and posed for a photograph.  In return, she captured Leslie and me at our very best…

Our server at the Irish Pub.
The patrons at the Irish Pub.

From our vantage point above the plaza, we saw a lot.  I think one of the most interesting sights was the two chess tables set up at the side of the square, both occupied by chess players.  For the entire time we were in the area, the Poopó Band played.  They never took a break.  I am sure they were exhausted whenever they finally did stop playing.

White flowers in a tree across from the Irish Pub.
Three costumed girls walking through Central Plaza.
It sounds German, but it is made in Bolivia.
Chess games in the Central Plaza.
Thinking of the next move.
One of the local security people in the Central Plaza.
The clock spire of the cathedral.
A juice vendor in the Central Plaza.
Detail of the cross atop the cathedral spire.
The Santa Cruz municipal government building. The Bolivian flag is red, yellow, and green. The green and white flag is for Santa Cruz.
Two women talking in the Central Plaza.

After our refreshments, we called for our taxi and returned to the hotel for a well-deserved nap.

The two “cholita” blankets we bought in a store just off the Central Plaza.

Before we departed La Paz, our good friends Joe and Tia told us we needed to eat at the steakhouse, La Cabrera.  We made reservations there for our first night in Santa Cruz.  Prior to arriving at the steakhouse, we had a glass of wine in the lobby of the hotel.  Drinks complete, we got in our taxi and rode to the steakhouse.

The bar/restaurant at the Marriott.
A white wine.
And both wines.
Lighting in the lobby of the Marriott.
Lighting above the bar.

The recommendation of the steakhouse was spot-on!  The building is two-stories; however, once inside, one can see the steakhouse has three separate levels on which to dine.  Our table happened to be on the ground floor.  Once seated, the wait staff immediately greeted us and asked for our beverage preference.  Oddly enough, we selected a bottle of wine.  We had a bottle of Juan Cruz Tannat which was one of the most delicious wines I have experienced.

La Cabrera, a wonderful steakhouse.
Interior of the steakhouse.
My happy date for the evening.
The bottle of wine we enjoyed with dinner.

For our starter, we selected Provoleta al Orégano (grilled provolone cheese with oregano).  It was a superb way to begin our meal.  We each chose the half-portion Argentinian steak for our main course.  Brought to the table on a sizzling serving platter, it is almost like a fajita platter.  The server cut a portion for each of us and placed it on our plates.  About a dozen small ramekins containing a variety of sauces and dressings accompanied the steak.  A fresh green salad came was also part of the fare.  The steak, done to perfection, massaged the tongue with each bite.

I am glad we each ordered a half portion.  The steaks were huge!  Nearly the size of a dinner plate!  I do not know what we would have done with the leftovers if we each had ordered a full steak.  As it was, we could barely make it through what we had.  Based on the previous sentence, one may wonder just why we ordered dessert…because we could!

The dessert at the steakhouse.

Our dessert was some enormous chocolate concoction.  While it was good, it was not my favorite.  It may have lacked the real chocolate punch I expected.  I am sure part of the issue is that I am not a big dessert eater anyway.  Regardless, we both highly recommend La Cabrera.  It is worth the effort to get there.

On Sunday we walked from the hotel to the Ventura Mall.  The mall is an easy walk, only about one-half mile.  The first store we entered was Supermercado Tia.  WOW!  What a grocery store!  La Paz does not have that supermarket.  It seemed we were in a whole different country.

The store has an entry to the mall.  When we arrived, the mall was not yet open.  That meant we spent our time wandering through the store.  On the street side of the store was a small café.  We each had a coffee and watched the other shoppers walk through the store.  After our coffee, we joined the wanderers.  The store had everything under one giant roof.  We saw everything for which we usually shop.  That is different than the area where we live.  When we go shopping at home, it is not unusual to have to go to between two and four different stores to find everything we want.  We made some mental notes of what we wanted to get from the store when we walked back to the Marriott.

When we entered the mall, we saw a modern, glistening, three-story structure.  We strolled through every inch of the mall.  On the upper level is a large movie theater complex.  We almost went in to see a movie…almost.  We decided not to go in because we did not see a film that we found interesting.  So, we walked through a small hallway and discovered a large food court.  There were some vendors we did not recognize, but there were many we did know; Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, and Burger King, to name a few.

We had not eaten at Burger King for a long time, so we decided that day was the day.  We each ordered a flame-broiled Whopper, fries, and a drink.  Leslie found a place to sit while I waited for our meal.  That was when I noticed the flame broiling did not take place there.  That appears to have happened elsewhere.  A microwave heats the hamburger patties before placing them on the bun.  The Whopper was ok, but it was not what we were expecting.

Leaving the food court, we stopped at Supermercado Tia to buy a few things and then walked back to the hotel.  We spent the rest of the day lounging.

That evening, we had dinner at the hotel. At the entry to the restaurant, there is a large ametrine crystal, about 18 inches wide by 12 inches tall, a purple and white quartz only found in Bolivia, on display. I have no clue about the value of that piece. The stone contains both citrine and amethyst.

We had an excellent dinner topped off with Flor de Caña 18 rum…my kind of dessert!

A huge specimen of ametine at the Marriott.
An after-dinner drink of Flor de Caña 18.

On Monday, one of my tasks was to view the local Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office. APHIS is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture. It was at that office I saw the most unusual wall painting. In the corner of the front garden is a 3-D mural. It depicts the mission of APHIS. The mural focuses on animal husbandry and wildlife from the high mountains to the lowlands, including farming, and then on to the big cities. According to the locally employed staff member, the mural, completed by a local artist, cost only US$200 nearly 15-years ago. I am sure I will never see another wall like that one.

The 3-D mural at the APHIS facility.

Thursday morning, we boarded a plane to return to La Paz. The BOA Boeing 737 we boarded that morning was unusual. A sign at the front entry to the plan proudly announced, “Pope Francis flew in this aircraft from Quito to La Paz and from La Paz to Santa Cruz on July 8, 2015.”

Our plane waiting for us to board in Santa Cruz.
The fuselage of our plane.
This sign as we entered the airplane read, “Pope Francis flew in this aircraft from Quito to La Paz and from La Paz to Santa Cruz on July 8, 2015.”

The flight to La Paz was quick and uneventful.  Once we were on the ground, our bodies screamed that we seemed to have left a lot of oxygen behind!  Even though we were only absent from La Paz for five nights, our bodies had to reacclimate to the thin air of La Paz.  Regardless, it was good to be back home.  We like the weather in La Paz much more than Santa Cruz.  La Paz is cool and dry.  Santa Cruz is hot and humid.

A worker’s legs dangling through the trellis at the pool area.
A panorama of Santa Cruz, looking east from the swimming pool deck at the hotel.
MAMAN!MAMANi

MAMAN!MAMANi

La Paz, Bolivia – February 16, 2019

At first glance, the title of this blog post may seem a little odd.  It is a rendition of how the artist signs his works, MAMAN!MAMANi.  The first letter, “i” is rendered upside down.

When we left our house at 09:00, it was a cool 54 degrees (12 degrees Celsius).  It was not foggy, but the clouds were quite low.  A bit of a breeze and a bit of drizzle made the morning all the cooler.

Our destination this beautiful morning was the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery. I learned of the gallery the day before Valentine’s Day from our good friend Tia. She and some of her friends had recently visited the gallery and met with the artist, Roberto Mamani Mamani. I was intrigued by Tia’s description of both the work of Mamani Mamani and the historic area in which the gallery is located. I suggested to Leslie that we should visit the gallery. If we found anything we liked, we could buy it as our Valentine’s Day gift to each other. She agreed, so we were set to visit.

Tia agreed to go to the gallery with us. We met Tia on the street about a block from our house. Just as we met her, a taxi passed. Tia flagged down the cab for us, and we began our ride to the Teleférico Verde. Our eight-minute trip to the Teleférico Verde Irpavi station cost us $15 Bolivianos (US$2.18). That amount included a tip of $3 Bolivianos.
On the upper level of the Teleférico station, we boarded one of the gondolas and began our steep ascent up and over the San Alberto area of La Paz. The San Alberto area has dozens of multi-million-dollar homes. No doubt the owners directly under the Teleférico remain very unhappy that the public transportation always flies overhead.

As the Teleférico Verde crests San Alberto and begins to drop into the Obrajes area, the gondolas are at the highest point above ground. My guess of the height is about 400 to 500 feet (122 to 152 meters). Leslie detests this part of the trip. She was also cold. I assured her she would warm up when we began walking.

We rode the Teleférico Verde to the final station at Del Libertador. At that station, one can switch to the Amarillo line or take a short walk over to the Celeste line. Our destination required us to walk the short distance to the Celeste. Once on the Celeste line, we continued to the final station, Prado. As an aside, the cost to build both the Verde line and the Celeste line was US$88,000,000 each!

Emerging from the Prado station, we walked a short distance uphill to Avenida 16 de Julio to hail a taxi. After a minute or two waiting, a taxi stopped for us. The driver was a lovely man. I told him we wanted to go to the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery. At first, he did not know the location. I showed him the address of Indaburo #710 esquina (corner) Jaén, and he immediately began driving. Traffic was a little heavier in this section of La Paz than it had been near our home. The driver quoted a rate of $15 Bolivianos to get us to our destination. When we arrived, Tia paid the driver $20 Bolivianos (US$2.90).

Immediately upon getting out of the taxi, we saw the art gallery.  One cannot miss the building.  There are large murals painted on the building; undoubtedly done by Mamani Mamani.  The building sits at the southern end of Calle Jaén, where it makes a 90-degree turn to the east.  We walked into the gallery at about 10:00.

A man walks past the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery on Calle Jaén.
The north face of the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery building.

One is immediately struck by the very colorful artworks when walking into the gallery. Everything in the gallery seems to pop out at the viewer. As we walked through the gallery, one of the employees accompanied us and quoted prices of the various works about which we inquired. He spoke excellent English. That made our communication easy.

I asked about one enormous work that caught my eye. He said it was 5,000.00, I thought that might be in Bolivianos; but then he finished his sentence with the phrase, U.S. dollars. I quipped that was way out of our neighborhood! We settled on a much smaller painting and a painted stone frog. We asked the employee if the artist was at the gallery. He said no, but he thought he would arrive in about an hour. We really wanted to meet the artist. We paid for our items and said we would return in about an hour. With that, at about 10:30, we began our stroll north on Calle Jaén.

The view north on Calle Jaén.
View from the Hostal Ananay entrance back to the gallery.

Calle Jaén is a cobblestone pedestrian street. There are no vehicles allowed on the intricately paved road. It is intricate because of the size of the stones used and the alternating patterns interspersed along the street. The largest cobblestones can be no more than four inches. It must have taken a very long time to pave that street!

Not too far from the art gallery, we spotted the Hostal Ananay. We decided that would be the perfect place to stop for a coffee. Walking through the door from the street, one is in a small hallway about 10 or 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters) long. At the end of the hall, one is surprised by a cozy courtyard. Across the courtyard from the hallway was a door to the café. We walked in, sat down, and ordered our drinks.

The café was surprisingly large. There were multiple tables scattered about, a stage set up for musicians, and various works of art. Two art pieces caught my eye. First was a very odd painting of Jesus Christ depicting Him with three faces. We learned later the painting is titled, The Trinity. I guess that makes sense, but it was still nothing I would want to own. I could not read the name of the artist. The other piece I noticed I could see hanging in my house. It was a wood carving of an indigenous Andean man playing a Bolivian pan flute.

A portion of the courtyard at Hostal Ananay.  The chain to the blue barrel is a method of directing rainwater.
The Trinity, a painting in the Hostal Ananay.
A wood carving in the Hostal Ananay. It shows an indigenous man from the Andes playing a pan flute.

After our break, we continued our walk north. We soon spotted a small art gallery. We climbed the treacherous, no-handle-available stairs to enter. Once inside, a nice young woman greeted us and asked if we spoke Spanish. We answered, “a little.” We asked if she spoke English, and she responded similarly. She began telling us, in Spanish, about the various items in the gallery. One of the things that she made were sculptures of cholitas that are about one-inch tall. We had to get one. She also pointed out some refrigerator magnets. Each magnet was a bottle cap with a scene painted inside that her sister made. We bought a magnet with a cholita painted inside. I was remiss; I should have asked her if I could have taken a photograph of her. Oh well.

Leaving the gallery, I saw a sign on the wall noting that the Club Atletico Jaén, a football (soccer) team, was founded here in 2005.

A small art store along Calle Jaén.
Farther up the hill on Calle Jaén, looking south. A group of Asian tourists stopped to take photographs of the wooden terrace on the building.
Looking south on Calle Jaén.

Along Calle Jaén are multiple small museums. We stopped in one. The attendant said we needed a ticket to enter. He said those tickets were available in the first museum at the end of the street. Sure enough, at the T-intersection of Calle Jaén and Sucre is the Museo Costumbrista (Museum of Customs), where they did sell tickets for the museums. Residents of Bolivia can enter the museums for $8 Bolivianos (US$1.16) while foreigners pay $20 (US$2.90). Tia and I were considered Bolivian nationals because we had our residency cards. Leslie was considered a foreigner since she did not have her card. The fee allows one access to four museums on Calle Jaén:

  • Museo Costumbrista Juan de Vargas
  • Museo Litoral Boliviano
  • Museo Metales Preciosos
  • Museo Casa de Pedro D. Murillo
I was disappointed with the Museo Costumbrista and the Museo Litoral Boliviano (I cannot translate this, but it seems to relate to the early history of La Paz). Neither museum allowed photography. There were some interesting and unique items in each museum I wanted to capture. I did find a YouTube video for the Museo Costumbrista. The 00:01:46 video shows some of the masks and costumes are worn for the carnival celebration from the early 20th Century. One may click here to view the video, Museo Costumbrista.

The Museo Litoral Boliviano had several dioramas depicting episodes in La Paz history.  Some of them were rather gruesome.  I have included some photos I found on the internet.

Related image

The above photo dramatizes the quartering of the Indian leader, Tupac Katari, some 237 years ago (credit the Bolivian Ministry of Culture and Tourism).

Image result for museo costumbrista la paz

The photo above is a diorama of the death of Pedro Domingo Murillo.  His house is on Calle Jaén.  It is now one of the museums (credit the newspaper La Region).

We opted to skip the final two museums because we were anxious to meet Mamani Mamani.  That ended up being a lapse in judgment.  The good news is our entry ticket is valid until August 22, 2019.

As we left the museum and began our walk down Calle Jaén, named after Don Apolinar Jaén, I saw a tile sign that provided the history behind this beautiful street. He was born in Oruro, Bolivia in 1776 and later executed on May 29, 1810, because he was involved in the revolution for independence. He and others in his group are referred to as the Protomártires de la Independencia (martyrs of the independence).

The sign at the top of Calle Jaén.

I call skipping the other two museums a lapse in judgment because when we returned to the art gallery, we found out the artist was still not there. The employees assured us he would be there soon. We could have easily toured the other two museums. Instead, we walked outside and sat on some benches to await his arrival. Leslie and Tia opted for the sunny side of the street. I was happy to stay in the shade.

Looking south on Calle Jaén.
Approaching the art gallery again.
Leslie and Tia relaxing on a bench.

My bench faced a building on which was the name, Residencia del Adulto Mayor “Maria Esther Quevedo.” It translates to a retirement home or old folks’ home. As we sat there, more and more older adults came to take their place on a bench. Some of the people we saw were disabled. At least two walked with visually impaired canes. Some of the elderly sat near us on the seats (Leslie and Tia finally moved to the shade). The Bolivians are so polite; as each one sat near us, they greeted us with, “buenas tardes (good afternoon).” We all responded in kind. I busied myself with more photography…imagine that!

One of the doors on the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery.
Detail of one of the doors on the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery.
The Mamani Mamani Art Gallery has an odd-shaped brick structure on the roof.
View of the art gallery from my bench.

In the photograph above, one can see a cross on the side of the nearby building.  It is La Cruz Verde, the green cross.  A plaque below the cross provides the following story, my best translation from Spanish.

The tradition is that in colonial times the alley – Calle Jaén today, was a dark place with constant appearances of supernatural beings and phenomena (ghosts, goblins, souls in pain, infernal noises of horse-drawn carriages and chains dragging on the ground).  But, above all, there was the presence of a condemned widow who seduced all the men who gathered drunk in the wee hours of the night to take them on a mysterious adventure. Then, the neighbors of this street, heirs of a deeply rooted Catholic faith, decided to place the green cross to scare away all the evil creatures that frightened them.

I thought it was an interesting story.

The Green Cross (la Cruz Verde) and the plaque with the story of the cross.
A man walking away from the gallery.
A cholita reading the sign in front of the art gallery.

It soon became evident that the people were waiting for lunch at the home. The door to the home was closed and locked. A couple of men, over time, rang the bell and tried to gain entry. One of the men did enter after a lot of talking and continuing to step into the building. At about 12:20, a woman from the facility opened the door and announced it would be ten minutes until the doors opened. She opened the door again at 12:30 and said, “pase (come in).” Interestingly, not one person seemed to rush to the door or even get up off the bench. Finally, one by one, people made their way into the building. As each one departed, they said, “buenas tardes” to us again.

As the drama played out in front of the home, Leslie walked back to the gallery to ask about the artist’s arrival. This time the employees told her he was by San Francisco Church and that he would arrive momentarily. Leslie came back to the bench to report and sit down. As soon as she gave the report, a taxi arrived, and Roberto Mamani Mamani emerged! He greeted us all and walked with us to his gallery.

Roberto Mamani Mamani is from Cochabamba, Bolivia, born December 6, 1962. He is Aymara, one of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia. He is world-famous, having enjoyed exhibitions of his work in more than 50 locations, including Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Munich, and London. As of 2017, he had made more than 3,000 paintings and nearly 70 series. He is also well known for painting large murals on buildings.

Inside the gallery, he immediately turned over our painting and began writing and drawing on the reverse. He wrote in Spanish, for Terry and Leslie, all the energy from the Andes, happy Valentine’s Day. Below that he drew a rough sketch of the sun and moon. He said I was the sun, and Leslie was the moon. Mamani Mamani is a lovely and genuine person. It seemed he could not do enough for us to demonstrate his gratitude. He gave us a small book documenting several of his works. He also gave Leslie a ring that has one of his works under a bubble of resin.

Roberto Mamani Mamani signing one of his works of art.
Roberto Mamani Mamani signing one of his works of art.
Leslie and I with Roberto Mamani Mamani.
Leslie and I with Roberto Mamani Mamani.
Leslie and I with Roberto Mamani Mamani, showing the reverse of the work of art.
Leslie and Roberto Mamani Mamani. He is holding a painted frog (sapo).

For anyone planning to visit La Paz, it is worth the time and effort to visit this quaint corner of town.

Our final view of Calle Jaén for the day.

We departed the gallery with all of our purchases in tow. We hunted in vain for a taxi. Everyone that passed already had passengers. We walked about six blocks before Tia was able to hail a cab. It was just in time. Just as we got into the taxi, it began to rain.

The traffic was absolutely nuts!  The traffic was barely moving.  To travel about eight blocks, it took nearly 20-minutes!  At one point, our driver set the emergency brake and turned off the taxi while we sat in traffic.  It is at times like that I am glad the taxis in La Paz do not rely on meters.  If we had been in New York City, I would probably have needed a line of credit to pay for the taxi ride.

Our driver let us out of the taxi about a block from the Celeste line.  We walked quickly in the rain to the station.  Then it was merely a repeat of our morning journey, just in reverse.  We were back home by about 15:00.

Alasitas

Alasitas

La Paz, Bolivia – January 24, 2019

On Thursday, Leslie joined me at the office.  The occasion?  Alasitas!!

Our Community Liaison Officer (CLO) coordinated a trip to the opening day of Alasitas.  Alasitas begins on January 24 every year.  As stated on the LAPAZLIFE site,

“Taking place just before Carnaval, Alasitas Fair, or Feria de las Alasitas in Spanish, is a month-long festival, where locals purchase miniature items to give to Ekeko, the Aymara god of abundance, in the hope he will bring fortunate [sic] and happiness to their lives.”

One can read more at LAPAZLIFE by clicking on this Alasitas link.

Before we left my office, Leslie and I huddled to agree on a strategy for our shopping.  We agreed we might buy one or two items and then just look.  After departing the market, we could decide if we wanted anything else.  If so, we could return on another day.  That strategy held solid…until we arrived at the market!

At about 11:00, we made the short walk to the Saint George station of the Celeste Line of the Teleférico.  The Teleférico was very crowded.  No doubt we were not the only ones bound for Alasitas.  We waited for several gondolas before one had enough room for us to board.  Once onboard, we sat back and relaxed for the ride to the Prado station, the end of the line.

Between the Open-Air Theater station and the Prado station, we “flew” over the Alasitas venue.  It did not take a rocket surgeon to see there were hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance.  Our path took us directly over the main entrance to the venue.  We saw the official Alasitas opening ceremony was in full swing.

“Flying” in the Teleferico Linea Celeste, approaching the site of the Alasitas.
Our view of the venue as we “flew” on to the final station on the Celeste Line.

Arriving at Prado station, we disembarked and waited for the rest of our group.  When we were all accounted for, we began our walk.  CLO strategically selected the Prado station as our starting point because everything from there is downhill.  That is a huge benefit in this city of monstrous hills.

As soon as we walked under Calle Bueno, we saw the beginnings of the vendor stalls at the Campo Ferial Bicentennial, the venue for Alasitas.  At this far end of the site, only a few of the vendors were open.  There were, however, many foosball tables and pool tables.  They were all undercover.  Many of the tables were in use.  I assume one must pay a fee to be able to use one of the tables.

Looking down the valley toward the southeast. Many of the vendor stalls on this end of the Campo Ferial Bicentennial were not open.
There were dozens of foosball tables along our route.
There were also several pool tables along the way.

Some of my colleagues at work had told me that there are usually miniature Teleférico gondolas for sale.  I knew I had to get one each of the green and blue gondolas.  I saw some hanging at one of the first booths at which we stopped.  There was a wonderful woman there.  She sold us the two gondolas.  As part of the sale, she provided miniature certificates for each one.  They are copies of documents for each of the actual gondolas on the operating Teleférico.  She said she is an artist.  She made several of the items in the booth, including a green bus.  As we departed, she gave us a blessing in the Aymara language.  That is the language of one of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.

This wonderful woman sold us the two miniature Teleferico gondolas, one green and one blue.

Our next stop was a booth with dozens of Ekekos of varying sizes. Ekeko is the Aymara god of abundance. He is the one the believers think will grant what is desired in their lives. The miniatures found at Alasitas represent those desires. We opted for one that is about six inches tall. He will reside in our kitchen. The young who sold the Ekeko also provided us with a cigarette. Those are typically lit and placed in the mouth of Ekeko. We decided it will just be by his ear.

A group of Ekekos for sale.
We purchased our Ekeko from this young man.

By this time, nearly noon, the central aisle was more and more crowded with people. That is because many believe that they need to purchase their miniatures and have them blessed on the first day of Alasitas, literally at high noon. For a blessing, one can go to a Catholic priest or an Aymara shaman. It is customary to pay for this service. The payment is probably around $5 Bolivianos (US$0.75).

The closer we got to the center of the feria, the more crowded things became.
A priest blessing some of the items purchased by a woman.

We veered off onto one of the side aisles.  The aisle was virtually empty of shoppers.  About halfway down the aisle was a vendor stall that had llama miniatures.  That particular stall also had a little girl that was beside herself, wanting ice cream.  As soon as her mother gave her one, she was very content.  The little girl’s mother was very kind to help us find just the right llama.

While the main walkway was very crowded with people, the side areas were relatively open.
A very happy little girl, once she received her ice cream.
The little girl’s mother sold us a miniature llama.

I seem to be a sucker for color, as evidenced when we walked by a stall that had several Bolivian branded items. In particular, some shot glasses with colorful leather holders caught my eye. The young woman that helped me a lot of fun and very lively.

From this vivacious young woman, we purchased a set of Bolivian shot glasses.

At the end of the side aisle, I saw some beautiful chess sets. I am not the best chess player in the world, nor do I have a collection of chess sets. That changed today, the collection part when I bought a chess set pitting the Spaniards against the Aztecs. I probably got the European discount, which means I probably overpaid. Regardless, I thought $250 Bolivianos (US$36) was very reasonable for the set. My “collection” now includes that chess set and an agate set I bought when we lived in Islamabad.

The very kind purveyor of chess sets, among other things.

There was a booth that sold nothing but miniature food items that were refrigerator magnets.  We had to have some of those, including my favorite, a salteña.

Our next stop was a father and son booth that specialized in small grocery items.  In this case, small truly means small.  There were boxes of food that could not have been more than one-half inch tall.  I have no idea what we will do with them.  I guess we will just have them and love them.

This both, manned by a father and son, is where we found our miniature food packages.

Just down the way was a stall with all sorts of miniature construction items and tools. Some of the devices were about three inches long. However, I opted for the wooden toolbox. This tiny toolbox held eight small tools, each about one-half inch long. The pliers work! A miniature blue hardhat topped off my purchase. The vendor tried to sell us miniature Academy Awards statues, Golden Globe statues, and a personal computer. We thanked her but decided we had enough already.

This vendor concentrated mostly on miniature construction items.

One couple was selling miniature currency from around the world. We knew these would be for sale. A colleague from the office gave Leslie and me some tiny money. She said people frequently hand these out to strangers. We had to buy a golden US$100 bill.

Money vendors. We bought a golden US$100 note.

After the currency purchase, I vowed not to buy anything else. I finally remembered the well-intentioned strategy Leslie and I agreed upon; albeit late!

Since we were finished flinging money around as though we had it, we decided to walk to the Teleférico and head back to the office. As we walked through the crowd, heading downhill, we passed several Aymara shamen who were blessing items people purchased. Part of the blessing entails smoke. The smoke comes from wood, sugar, and something else. We both thought the odor was quite pungent. We did not stop for any blessings, opting instead for fresh air.

People at a table with a shaman to bless their purchases.
A shaman blessing some items.
Another shaman waiting for items to bless.

When we walked through the main entrance, on our way out, the crowd seemed to multiply. Above the main entrance is a very large Ekeko. The sea of people seemed to go on forever. We happened to be walking behind a group from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Many of them were carrying colorful god’s eyes. As we walked along behind them, we took the opportunity to hand out some of the miniature currency my colleague had given us. The recipients indeed seemed to enjoy receiving them.

Moving closer to the main entry, the crowds and the smoke increased.
A vendor specializing in Barbie clothes.
A woman selling miniature diplomas and certificates in an interview with local media.
Looking back toward the Ekeko at the main entry.
The crowd at the main entry.
Beginning our walk back to the Teleferico station, the crowd was still enormous.
The group carrying the god’s-eyes are part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The crowd of people seemed unending.
Hundreds of people walking toward the main feria grounds.

We finally got to a side road that led to the Teleférico, thankfully not crowded with people. However, there were several dozen Bolivian police standing in formation. I am not quite sure why they were standing there. Leslie and I took advantage of the opportunity and handed out the rest of our miniature currency. Like the other recipients, they were happy to receive the notes.

A gathering of two or three dozen Bolivian police.

At the Open-Air Theater station, I stopped to take a photograph of the side of the station.  Since it is on the Celeste Line, the panels are various shades of blue.  I knew I needed such a shot for an upcoming photographers’ group competition.  I am not sure what the other photographers will think of the photo, but it is by far one of my favorites.

The side of the building at the Open Air Theater Station of the Celeste Line of the Teleferico.

We boarded and rode back to the Saint George station.  At the station is a beautiful mural.  The mural is only about two or three months old.  I have always meant to stop and take a photo.  Today, I stopped and took a photograph.

The mural at the Saint George Station of the Celeste Line. It celebrates 40 years of scholarships between Bolivia and Japan.

From there, we walked back to the office and had lunch.

When we got home that evening, we unwrapped all of our loot.  We are happy with it; although, we are not sure what we will do with some of the items!

We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Alasitas.  For anyone traveling to Bolivia at this time of year, Alasitas is a must-see!

Our “loot” from Alasitas.
The Ekeko is definitely center stage.
In this wooden chess set, it is the Spaniards…
…versus the Incas. The detail and color of the set is amazing.
Meeting Our First Grandchild

Meeting Our First Grandchild

Fruita, Colorado – November 21, 2018

Our first grandchild, Michael, was born at virtually the same time as when I landed in La Paz, Bolivia for the first time.  He was born while his father was at sea.  On Veterans Day; father, mother, and baby were finally reunited.

Shortly before Tyler returned from deployment, he said he and his family planned a trip to Colorado around the Thanksgiving holiday.  With that knowledge, I was able to make arrangements to leave work for a little over a week and head to Colorado.

The anticipation was enormous! I had not seen my wife for nearly four months because she had been in Colorado. I had not seen Tyler, Hillary, or the rest of my family for close to 15 months. I had never met Tyler’s wife, Victoria, and, of course, I had only seen Michael in photographs.

A very comfortable, sleeping baby.

My countdown for my Colorado homecoming finally made it to mere hours as I sat at home on the evening of November 19.  My taxi was due to pick me up at about 00:15 on the morning of the 20th.

Right on time, my taxi arrived. I was tired because I had only dozed while waiting. Regardless, I wheeled my luggage, laden with Bolivian gifts, to the curbside, and placed it in the rear of the car. The woman who was my driver spoke virtually no English. But even with me being 90 percent illiterate in Spanish, we were able to communicate. One of her first questions to me, in Spanish, was whether I wanted her to go via the Llojetta route or take the Autopista. I said I did not care, and it was up to her as the driver. She selected the Llojetta route.

When we turned off of Avenida Costanera onto Avenida Mario Mercado, we began our climb to El Alto. We went up and up. In fact, there seemed to be no end to up. The only difference in our climb was when we encountered a speed bump or a sharp hairpin turn. Other than that, it was all up! Because of the steep road, much of that part of the journey was in second gear.

Our house in La Paz is at 11,180 feet (3,408 meters).  The El Alto International Airport is at 13,300 feet (4,054 meters); quite an altitude gain.

We finally crested onto the top of the El Alto mesa.  There were still several more kilometers to go to get to the El Alto International Airport, but at least it was all reasonably level.

It was around 01:00 when we arrived at the airport.  I paid my 200 Bolivianos (US$29), took my baggage, and went inside the terminal.  By 01:40, my check-in was complete.  Ten minutes later, I was at my gate, waiting patiently for my 04:30 flight to Lima, Peru.  That flight was right on time.

About an hour and one-half later, the plane landed at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru.  Since I was merely transiting Lima, I did not have to go through passport control.  However, I did have to go back through security screening.  I left the screening area after a very brief wait and made my way to Friday’s for breakfast.  I must have been hungry because it tasted so delicious.

Departing the restaurant, I made my way to the gate for my flight to Orlando, Florida. I arrived early. I watched as the security and airline personnel set up another security screening area at the gate. This is standard practice for a flight departing an international location, heading to a United States airport. Once again, I had no issues and a very short wait for the screening.

Soon after the screening, the airline employees began to scan the passengers’ boarding passes and allow us onto the waiting bus. When the bus was full, we rode to the waiting Latam aircraft. Onboard the plane, I settled into my seat and waited for the five and one-half hour flight to begin. It ended up being a comfortable and uneventful flight.

Passing the Florida coastline on the way to Orlando.

Once I was off the plane in Orlando, Florida, I went to passport control. As usual, that was a breeze. I waited in the Customs area for my one bag to come off the plane. My customs form dutifully filled out in detail, rested in my pocket. I lifted my bag from the carousel and went to the exit. I did not see anyone collecting the Customs forms. I asked a passing Customs officer to whom I should give my paper. She said they no longer use those forms…

To get to my next gate, I had to exit the terminal. That meant I had to go back through a security screening. I usually have TSA Pre-Check status on my boarding pass. The boarding pass issued by Latam in Bolivia did not have that notation as the lady at the TSA Pre-Check line pointed out to me. She said I could go to a nearby kiosk and try printing another boarding pass. I declined. That ended up to be an error in judgment.

I entered the line for security screening. Today was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in Orlando, Florida. By the way, Orlando is home to Disney World. The screening area was absolutely packed with holiday travelers and many, many families sporting Disney World attire. The line snaked back and forth for a distance at least equal to the steep road to El Alto.

I found myself sandwiched in the line between two of the Disney World families. The family behind me had a child in a stroller. I lost count of the number of times the stroller bumped into the back of my legs. The family in front of me was a husband, wife, and two children in the eight-year-old range. I am not sure just how much of their home they brought with them or how much of Florida they were trying to take back to their home, but I did not know TSA had that many plastic x-ray bins. I pictured myself finally approaching the x-ray conveyor, looking wistfully at an automaton TSA employee, and merely shrugging my shoulders because there were no more bins in the entire zip code. Somehow, additional containers did show up. When I could finally approach the conveyor, I placed my items in the bin (note that word is not plural) and stepped through security. At this point, I request the reader to stop, take a deep breath, sigh, and revel in my successful trip through the Orlando security checkpoint. I celebrated the fact that there was no bruising on the back of my legs from the stroller.

Quite blissful, I made my way to Ruby Tuesday for a well-deserved glass of sauvignon blanc and chicken sandwich.

My last flight of the day was to Dallas, Texas. I quickly boarded the plane and had a relatively quick trip to DFW. The flight arrived in Dallas at about 23:05 Bolivian time. I could not make it to my final destination because there were no more flights to Grand Junction that day.

I waited at the baggage carousel to collect my bag. With my suitcase in tow, I walked to the lower level, called the Marriott for a shuttle, and waited. I made it to the hotel at about 00:00 Bolivian time. That meant I had been traveling for about 24-hours. I was delighted to lie down and sleep.

Early the next morning I got back on a shuttle and went back to the airport. I checked my bag, grabbed some breakfast, and found my gate, D14. While I was sitting at the gate, I saw a plane arrive. The plane stopped short of the jet bridge because the ground crew was not there to guide the aircraft. After 10 or 12 minutes, the ground crew arrived and guided the plane to a proper stop. Just as that happened, I received a text on my phone. With about 45 minutes left before my flight was to begin boarding, the departure gate changed to Terminal C. That was disheartening. However, it turned out to be ok because I did not have to go back through security.

A wishbone sculpture in one of the DFW terminals. It seemed appropriate for Thanksgiving!
The D14 jet-bridge at DFW airport.
An American Eagle plane arriving at D14. I mistakenly thought this would be my plane to Grand Junction, Colorado.
The pilots waiting patiently for a ground crew to guide them to D14.
Stopping on the mark at D14.

At the new gate, I boarded the plane, sat back for a smooth ride, and was in Grand Junction by 10:30 local time, Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

Leslie and Hillary met me at the airport.  Soon we were in Fruita, Colorado, Lorraine’s home, the base of operations for this high-level visit.  I began eating my way across Colorado with some Gardetto’s Snack Mix, one of my favorite things on this planet.  We busied ourselves with last-minute preparations for Tyler, Victoria, and, of course, Michael.

Enjoying time on the patio with Bella.
Mother and daughter.

On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, we drove to the airport to pick up the newest members of our family, Victoria and Michael. We quickly caught a glimpse of the proud papa, Tyler, carrying our very first grandchild, Michael. We very happily saw, met, and hugged our new daughter-in-law Victoria too. It was so lovely to have them at the same place on Earth as Leslie and me.

Once we were back in Fruita, poor Michael was passed around like a rugby ball…well, we did not toss him around; but he indeed found his way to many people at the house! Hillary and Shane stopped by so, now the only couple missing was great-grandma and great-grandpa Juvera. That was remedied the next morning when they arrived at the airport. Suddenly Michael had two more fans to whom he could be passed.

Grandma and Michael.
Great-grandma and Michael…oh, and Bella.
And this grandpa loves this boy!!
Great-grandma J.
Great-grandpa J.
Asleep after a feeding.
Auntie and Michael playing like a boss!
Just a little tired.
Grandma holding her dear, sweet grandson.
Time for his close-up.
If one wants a good selfie, don’t let the grandpa take it!!
Father and son.
Auntie Hillary with her newest nephew, Michael.

Since everyone was finally together, Friday was Bolivian Santa day.  I had brought gifts from Bolivia for everyone.  There was Bolivian chocolate for each family.  The guys received wallets, alpaca socks, t-shirts, key chains, a refrigerator magnet, and a Marine Security Guard Detachment coin.  Everything was from Bolivia.  The women received hand-woven, baby alpaca shawls.  The remainder of Friday was spent visiting with all of our family.

It was also an Ugly Christmas Sweater day. Hillary had purchased ugly Christmas sweaters for all of us. I set up the tripod, and we captured the moments.

Gifts from Bolivia and happy recipients.  These are mantillas or shawls.
The family reunion photo with ugly Christmas sweaters provided by Hillary. From left to right is Lorraine, Victoria, Tyler with Michael, Terry (your humble writer), Leslie, Hillary, Shane, Joleen, and Claude.
Great-grandma Joleen and great-grandpa Claude joined in the photo.
Great-grandma Lorraine joined in the photo.
Grandpa and grandma with number one grandson, Michael.
Modeling our ugly Christmas sweaters…

Saturday was a day for more visiting with relatives.  Early that morning, Tyler, Victoria, and I stopped at the Aspen Street Coffee Company to get some go-juice.  Later in the day, Tyler and I went to the barn to sort through some of his stuff.  In one of the boxes, he found his baby blanket!  That is now 25 years old!  It seemed strangely appropriate now that Michael is on the scene.

Inside the Aspen Street Coffee Company in Fruita, Colorado.
The proud papa displaying his newly discovered baby blanket from a quarter-century ago!

Just as important was the preparation of our Thanksgiving meal. That evening, I took the opportunity to take a selfie of the group. It may not be the best photograph, but it will forever mean a lot to me. Michael is just off-camera in his bouncy chair.

The Thanksgiving feast!

On an evening trip through the town center of Fruita, I was struck by the beautiful Christmas lights on display.  I had never seen that before.

The Christmas lights in downtown Fruita, Colorado looking west.
The Christmas lights in downtown Fruita, Colorado looking east.
A Christmas bicycle in Fruita, Colorado.

Sunday morning, Leslie and I took great-grandma and great-grandpa Juvera back to the airport for their return to Colorado Springs.

One morning in Fruita, it was cold and foggy. I looked outside and saw there was a beautiful frost on nearly everything. That meant it was a great time to go out with my camera.

View of a fence post with frost in Fruita, Colorado.
Fog, fence, trees, and a paddock in Fruita, Colorado.
Fog, fence, and trees in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on a top-rail of a fence in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on the top rail of a fence in Fruita, Colorado.
Fog as seen through a very frosty and somewhat symmetrical gate in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of a very frosty and somewhat symmetrical gate in Fruita, Colorado.
Looking toward a barn gate in Fruita, Colorado.
Another frosty plastic hay bale tie in Fruita, Colorado.
A frosty fence at a horse paddock in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on a plastic hay bale tie in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on a plastic hay bale tie in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on a fence and weed in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on the bare branches of a globe willow in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on the bare branches of a globe willow in Fruita, Colorado.
A frosty water spigot in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost, fog, and trees in Fruita, Colorado.
Frost on an evergreen tree in Fruita, Colorado.
Detail of frost on an evergreen tree in Fruita, Colorado.

Once the fog lifted, one could see that the Colorado National Monument had received some snow.  I was very picturesque as seen from Fruita.

A view of snow on the Colorado National Monument.
Looking toward the Colorado National Monument, one can see the Independence Monument.
A closer view of the Independence Monument.

Since Victoria had never been to Colorado, we had to take her to the Colorado National Monument.  At the entry station, the ranger told us no Desert Bighorn Sheep had been spotted that day; however, we should stay alert.  There was a chance we might see some.

We drove up to the visitor center, stopping periodically to view sights from the various overlooks.  At the visitor center, we stopped to go inside and explore.  We also stepped out to the Canyon Rim Trail to look down into the adjoining canyon.

Looking across the Colorado River Valley from the Colorado National Monument.
Tyler and Victoria at the Colorado National Monument.
A jet passing by the Balanced Rock formation in the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Balanced Rock in the Colorado National Monument.
Pointing the way to the Canyon Rim Trail near the visitor center in Colorado National Monument.
A view of a cliff from the Canyon Rim Trail overlook.
A twisted cedar tree in Colorado National Monument.
Detail of the sandstone bricks used in the construction of the visitor center in the Colorado National Monument.
A red sandstone cliff near the visitor center of the Colorado National Monument.

Back in the vehicle, we continued toward the East Entrance to the Colorado National Monument. I was driving and focused on the road. Suddenly Leslie shouted there was a sheep alongside the road! Sure enough, a Desert Bighorn Sheep ewe was lying beside the road, casually chewing her cud. I stopped immediately. Tyler, Victoria, and I piled out to take photographs. Just as we finished, I saw another vehicle approaching. They were slowing to take photos as we had done.

A Desert Bighorn Sheep along the road in the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Colorado National Monument.
There was an inch or two of snow in places at the Colorado National Monument.
Looking across the canyon to the Canyon Rim Trail.
View of the Independence Monument from Otto’s trailhead in the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Independence Monument from Otto’s trailhead in the Colorado National Monument. The Grand Mesa is in the distance.
Snow, cedar, and pines in the Colorado National Monument.
Mountains in the distance as seen from the Colorado National Monument.
Detail of a cedar tree in the Colorado National Monument.
A dead cedar tree in front of a Mormon Tea plant in the Colorado National Monument.
Independence Monument and the view looking north and west from the Colorado National Monument.
A closer view of the Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument. The town in the background is Fruita, Colorado.

Continuing our eastward journey, I was surprised at how much snow there was on the road.  By the time we got to the East Entrance, the road was completely dry.

When we left the Colorado National Monument, we called Hillary and Shane to tell them we were on the way to the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita.  They met us there.  For the meager entry fee, a visit to the museum is a must if one is in the area.  The interpretive and interactive displays help put the prehistoric history of the area into perspective.

The truck outside the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.
One of the displays in the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.
In the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado. This is where the work of exposing fossils takes place.
A rather gruesome depiction of mealtime in the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.
A depiction of a stegosaurus in the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.

Our time in Fruita coincided with a full moon.  I was able to get a reasonably good photograph of the moon one night.  It reminded me of the pictures I took of the moon while we were stationed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

A full moon visible in Fruita, Colorado.

No trip to Fruita is complete without a visit to the Main Street Café in Grand Junction, Colorado.  When we go there, we always try to get the table that is in the display window.  The day we went, that table was open, so grabbed it quickly.  It had been eons since I had a milkshake.  I corrected that oversight with a strawberry milkshake.  It was absolutely everything I thought it would be!

Yep! That is a strawberry shake! You too can get one at the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Ready for lunch at the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
He just finished his lunch at the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
A Marilyn Monroe advertisement in the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
One of the “window display” seating areas in the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado.
An art installation just outside of the Main Street Cafe in Grand Junction, Colorado. The cafe is visible in the background with the checkerboard sign.

After lunch, we walked along Main Street; stopping at the Main Street Minerals and Beads shop and then the Robin’s Nest Antiques and Treasures store.  That antique store is one of our favorite stops in downtown Grand Junction.

The Main Street Minerals & Beads shop in Grand Junction, Colorado.
The building housing the Main Street Minerals & Beads store in Grand Junction, Colorado dates from 1890.
Our favorite antique store in Grand Junction, Colorado. A Robin’s Nest of Antiques & Treasures.
A partial view of the Reed Building in Grand Junction, Colorado. It dates from 1908.
An artfully disguised utility box along Main Street in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Wednesday morning after Thanksgiving, I was up early as usual.  I could tell the sunrise was going to be good.  So once again, even though it was cold, I grabbed my camera and headed outside.  I think the results speak for themselves.

Looking across a paddock in Fruita, Colorado watching the sunrise.
A closer view of a lone tree in Fruita, Colorado during a sunrise. The Grand Mesa is visible in the distance.
A wider view across the paddock in Fruita, Colorado.
A lone tree in Fruita, Colorado silhouetted by the sunrise.
The sunrise was very pretty on this cold fall morning in Fruita, Colorado.
The home in Fruita, Colorado.
A globe willow tree in front of a barn in Fruita, Colorado.
Looking across a paddock in Fruita, Colorado toward the Colorado National Monument.

Later that morning, we took Tyler, Victoria, and Michael to the airport so they could begin their 11-hour journey home.  They made it home about an hour late, but safe and sound.

When we returned from the airport, Leslie and I finished packing our baggage.  We were due to the leave Grand Junction the next morning.  We had so much stuff we had to ship some items to Bolivia to keep from having overweight baggage.

That next morning, we drove to the airport.  We left the vehicle in the parking lot for Lorraine and Hillary to retrieve later that morning.  We went inside the airport, checked-in, and went to our gate to await boarding.

We boarded and left on time.  It was a very smooth and uneventful flight to Dallas, Texas.

On the final approach to the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas.

Once we were in Dallas, we had enough time to get breakfast at Chili’s.  It was particularly marginal, but it was food.

When we got to our gate, we only had a short wait before we boarded the American Airlines plane bound for Orlando, Florida.  Once again, that flight was comfortable and uneventful.  We had a row of three seats to ourselves, so we were able to spread out.

A happy passenger waiting to depart from DFW in Dallas, Texas.
While our plane was taxiing at DFW airport in Dallas, Texas, another plane was landing.
A runway marker at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas. Our plane ultimately took off on runway 35L.
A Delta jet at the DFW airport beginning the takeoff roll.
The passengers on our plane at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas waiting for the takeoff.
An American Airlines jet at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas beginning its takeoff roll.
Another American Airlines jet at the DFW airport in Dallas, Texas beginning its takeoff roll.

The comfort ended at Orlando.  A wheelchair attendant was at the door of the plane to collect Leslie.  He pushed her to the desk at the gate, said he had to go clear the plane and left us there.  We did not quite understand that.  In all of our travels, once the wheelchair arrives, we are off to our next destination with no stops.

The young man finally returned and began walking with us down the concourse.  I asked to confirm that he knew where we were going.  He replied yes, to baggage claim such and such.  I said no, we had a connecting flight to Lima, Peru.  He stopped, checked his iPad, and said we had to leave the secure area to check in with our carrier, Latam Airlines.  That was disheartening since I already knew how challenging the security screening was at Orlando.

Regardless, he got us to the Latam desk. I showed our tickets to the woman at the counter. She said we were all set and we could go to our gate. Since Leslie and I had not originally planned to travel together, we had different itineraries. That meant our seat assignments were not together. I asked the woman if she could seat us together. She flatly said no. That surprised me. She said we might be able to change seats at the gate. I pointed out that Leslie needed assistance. She told us to wait at a designated point, and someone would take us to the gate shortly.

We waited at the designated spot for nearly ten minutes.  Finally, I asked another Latam employee how we were supposed to get to the gate.  Ultimately, they called someone, and we began our journey to gate 82.

As we got to the security screening area, we entered the wheelchair assistance line. I thought that meant we would be expedited through the queue. Boy was that an incorrect thought. I could have sworn that some of the families in line wearing Disney World attire were the same families I had seen a week earlier. Even though we were in a short and “fast” lane, it took an excessive amount of time to get through security.

Departing security, our attendant got us to the gate reasonably quickly.  Just as we arrived, they started boarding.  By our way of reckoning, we just barely made it to our plane.

We boarded the plane, and Leslie took her seat at 18J, an aisle seat. I continued to 26C, another aisle seat. The boarding was somewhat chaotic. I kept an eye on Leslie. I saw the middle seat next to her remained open. As it so happened, the middle seat next to me also remained open. When it appeared boarding was complete, I asked one of the flight attendants if I could sit next to my wife. She agreed, so we were able to sit together.

The flight from Orlando to Lima, Peru was uneventful but lengthy. At only about five and one-half hours, it was certainly not the longest flight we have taken, but it is still a long time to be cooped up in an aluminum cigar. We eagerly awaited the in-flight service and a glass of wine…wait a minute…Latam airlines do not serve alcohol…what?!?! We may never fly them again…

I was ever hopeful that when we arrived in Lima, we would have enough time to go to Fridays and get something to eat and drink…wrong.  The airport was bustling.  We made it to our next gate with about 20-minutes to spare.  The only good thing is I asked the gate attendant if Leslie and I could sit together.  She moved us to the front of the plan, row 2, and seated us side by side.

The pilot making preparations to depart Lima, Peru on the way to La Paz, Bolivia.

The flight from Lima to La Paz, Bolivia was one of our shorter trips.  We arrived in La Paz at about 03:15 Bolivian time.  One of the Embassy employees was there to meet us and help us through customs.  When we had retrieved our luggage and got in the vehicle, it was nearing 04:00.

Our driver selected the Autopista, a not-quite-finished highway. WOW! After taking that, if another driver ever asks if I want to take the Autopista or the Llojetta route, it will definitely be the Autopista! It was much quicker, and fewer hairpin turns, no speed bumps, and travel was at a reasonable speed.

We made it home at about 04:30, after nearly 24-hours of travel. We had that long-awaited glass of wine and crashed into bed. We were together and at home!!